Pencil Review: Mitsubishi 9825EW (HB)

When you live in Alaska, you end up spending a lot of time in Seattle. It’s just kind of the way it goes: unless you want to drive for several days through rural northwest Canada, going anywhere usually involves flying, and Seattle happens to be the most easily-accessible major city/airline hub from Anchorage. Flights between the two cities are frequent and — if you’re willing to fly at 3 a.m. — cheap. More often than not, Seattle is the go-to whether you are connecting to another flight to points beyond, or just need to go somewhere to “get outside” for a while. On top of all that, the Polar Pencil Partner’s parents just moved to Seattle from back East, so needless to say we are regular weekenders in the Jet City.

We just took a long weekend in Sea-town, and ironically, I brought a pencil back that I’d purchased there months ago: the Mitsubishi (or is it Mitsu-Bishi?) 9825EW, graded HB. Given the prominence of Japanese-American culture in the city, it just seemed like an appropriate pencil to carry around town, so I sharpened up the 9825EW (a variant of the more traditional 9825 “standard” version) and gave it a whirl.

Construction Quality

Aside from its obvious nudity, a closer look reveals that the EW iteration of the 9825 is a “recycled wood” pencil, similar to the Ticonderoga Renew: it has no lacquer on the barrel, and instead of being made of solid pieces of new lumber, the pencil slats which form the wood casing are composed of “leftovers” spliced together to recycle wood scraps. At various points along the barrel, you can see these interlocking finger joints — which I think is a cool effect, especially when you start sharpening at a joint. The ferrule and eraser are a bit of a twist on the traditional: the tin-can ferrule, which seems to be well-fit and securely attached, has an “oiled bronze” look and holds on a black eraser nub. The imprint is applied flawlessly in forest green, with the HB designation and other various information — such as its intended use for “master writing” — displayed on three separate facets of the semi-hex casing.

I picked up a few singles from the stationery shop to try. Rolling each one across the desk, they all seemed to be almost perfectly straight — way better than the Mitsubishi 4563 — and the cores were about as well-centered as I’ve ever seen. These are well-built pencils.

The 9825EW comes unsharpened, so I pulled out my M+R three-hole for the job of turning out its first point. The wood cut smoothly, turning out an unbroken ribbon of shavings. It seemed slightly brittle and fibrous, often leaving a collar that was rough and splintery in patches. However, these issues did not seem severe enough to cause any problems beyond cosmetic ones. I cut across the grain of one of the wood splices and didn’t notice any issues with that.

The species of wood used is definitely cedar — or at least mostly so. I imagine it wouldn’t be out of the question to splice together more than one complementary species, but a quick sniff test, and a look at the rich redness of the casing material, is a strong indication that cedar is present. (Sidenote: I took advantage of the fact that Seattle has more abundant natural sunlight during the winter than Anchorage to snap the below photo. When I go next month maybe I’ll take all of my pencils and do a huge photo shoot).

I found the cores to be slightly brittle when in use, due to relatively routine snapping of the tip. Granted, since I began this review while travelling and away from my desk I was doing a lot of hand-sharpening, which produces more of a “needle” point than using a crank sharpener. All of the breaks seemed to occur very close to the end of the tip, so perhaps that had something to do with it. Further, there was usually a sharp enough lead remaining to just keep writing after a snap, at least for a little bit. So, that’s why I say slightly brittle. I won’t count it as a strike against the pencil, but something to watch out for.

Performance

The core of this pencil is kind of a sleeper. I find the pencils of Mitsubishi’s direct Japanese competitor, Tombow, to run a couple shades dark. Mitsubishi, on the other hand, seems to grade their pencils a little closer to what one would expect. At first glance the 9852EW’s core seemed to be solidly HB to me. However, it wasn’t until I started comparing it against American and European-style HB pencils that I realized that it can leave a pretty bold line. Interestingly, the darkness also seems to depend on the type of paper used. Some papers appear to “bring out” the Mitsubishi core more than others. It’s really hard to put my finger on where to place it, but I’d say the 9852EW HB is kind of an “HB-plus” grade in terms of darkness — again, depending on what you’re writing on with it.

One thing’s for sure, it definitely writes above its grade in terms of smoothness. The Mitsubishi 9852EW glides across paper more freely than the No. 2 iterations of the Chinese Ticonderoga, the Mirado Classic, the Cedar Pointe, the Ceres 909…basically any HB pencil I could throw at it. It actually seems up there with the Kimberly 2B in terms of page-feel.

I get the impression that the point retention is maybe a little on the soft side, but not by much. It held up really well while journaling on toothy paper, about the same as a Cedar Pointe No. 2 (maybe just slightly less). I also seemed to burn through my tester pencil relatively quickly, which is generally a sign of a soft pencil; but on the flip side, it’s also a sign of frequent hand-sharpening. From this evidence I conclude that it may be a little bit soft, but it holds up great when taken in proportion to its darkness and especially its smoothness.

The graphite of the 9852EW stuck to the page about as well as any other HB pencil. It definitely isn’t smudge-proof; I did notice a thumbprint here or there when writing in my journal, and I was able to make a decent-sized streak when doing an intentional test. But I didn’t notice excessive smearing or ghosting, and it performed roughly equivalent to the Cedar Pointe and other No. 2 pencils during the smudge test.

I read some older reviews of this pencil, and they all really panned the eraser — specifically, they said it was messy and smudge-prone. I have to say, I disagree. While the actual erasing ability of the nub is mediocre (let’s be honest, most built-in erasers are) I appreciate how clean it is. I found myself thankful for this feature as I lay about lazily on my vacation, writing in bed, very appreciative that I wouldn’t end up with a bunch of eraser crumbs in my buttcrack. I don’t know if they improved their formula or what, but the 8952EW has a clean — if not spectacularly performing — eraser.

Conclusions

The Mitsubishi 9852EW is a great pencil for people who value smoothness, but otherwise appreciate a nice solid HB pencil. It’s a little bit darker than the average HB, and the point wears down just a touch faster, but not by much — especially considering that it feels like a 2B when you’re writing.

This is one of those pencils that I think really shine on toothy paper. A page with some abrasive quality helps coax the core to lay down a bolder graphite line, while providing a little feedback so it doesn’t feel so “slippery”. On flatter paper, my personal take is that it feels a little too smooth and doesn’t leave as dark a line as I’d expect for a pencil that silky — almost giving the impression that it struggles to leave a mark. I think I prefer a pencil that’s either softer, or a little more scratchy, on something like a composition book. But for nice paper, this is a nice pencil.

Also worth mentioning: for whatever reason, it doesn’t get that worn-in “patina” that the Cedar Pointe and some other unfinished pencils get. Not a judgment; just an observation. The oiled bronze finish does tend to wear off the ferrule, though.

Depending on where you buy it, and whether you pick them up individually or in a box, the Mitsubishi 9852EW might cost you around a buck a piece (USD). That prices it a little bit higher than similar pencils like the Ticonderoga Renew and the General’s Supreme. Is it worth the extra cents? I’m not sure. It’s a nice pencil, better suited for some purposes than others. I’m not over the moon for it, but it earns a thumbs up from me. Definitely check it out if you dig natural pencils, and want HB hardness with 2B smoothness.